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Jhoral wasn’t really listening. His whole focus was on the empath that moved shakily around the small circle of waiting receptors. She was a beautiful woman, with high cheekbones, fine skin and a wide intelligent brow, but her face was haunted by fear. Her pink lips trembled and a worry line appeared between her eyes, the color of which he was still unsure. Green, blue, gold...every time he thought he had it figured out, they would change again.
It was obvious the search was taking a lot from her. Each time she touched one of the women, she strained, as if trying to force a melding. When it wouldn’t work, she’d flinch and her arms would drop. Her shoulders would droop in exhaustion, but after a moment she’d take a deep breath and move on to the next one. It was unbearable watching her. Jhoral wanted to help...to push everyone aside and find the person she needed. His chest ached with painful sensation and he’d never felt so helpless. This was one time his strength on the battlefield would do no good.
“What will happen if she doesn’t find one?” Dyas asked the question everyone was thinking. “Will she die?”
“She can’t die!” In spite himself, Jhoral’s voice rose. He immediately cleared his throat. “I mean...she will have another chance, won’t she?”
Mistress Aleris nodded, but her face was no longer serene. “It could be her perfect mind-mate isn’t in the circle. It is difficult to believe, but there may be other receptors out there we missed.”
“How do you find the receptors?” Jhoral kept his eyes on Lanai as she touched yet another receptor. A single tear appeared on her cheek and he wanted to howl out his own frustration. He wanted to leap down into the room and rip her away from all that was hurting her. He wanted to protect her.
“They come to us to be examined. It is voluntary, so I suppose it’s possible this empath’s perfect match has not yet been found. But those who can be receptors are usually glad to be tested. Having an empath increases status in our society. Everyone wants one.”
“You make it sound like the latest fashion or newest toy,” Jhoral growled, forgetting diplomacy in his disgust. “Surely, she is more than that.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” Mistress Aleris said quietly, as if sensing his annoyance. She glanced apologetically at the other royals. “The empaths are an important part of our people.”
“She’s made it around the circle again,” Dyas interrupted with a sigh. “I guess that’s it then. No mind-mate here.”
Jhoral flinched at his friend’s matter-of-fact tone. “There must be more we can do.”
Mistress Aleris shook her head. “No. It is the first time such a thing has happened, but if she hasn’t found her mate by now, she is not here.” The mentor walked over to the railing and signaled the two gray-robed women standing off to the side. “She will be returned to the training house until other receptors are found.”
Jhoral watched, his stomach in knots as the empath was taken by the arms to be led out. He badly wanted to leap over the railing and go to her. To gather her in his arms and give her comfort. It took everything he had in him to just sit and watch. It didn’t make sense. By the gods, he didn’t even know her. But the feeling was so strong he could barely contain himself.
She was so bent over from despair she stumbled, leaning heavily on the helpers for support. But, just as she got to the door, she gave a whimpering cry and jerked away from the women. The colorful rainbow of energy surrounded her once more as she turned and raced back to the line of receptors.
Jhoral found himself on his feet as she threw her arms around the closest receptor and tried to find a meld. Her courage and strength of will made him want to cheer her on. The empath’s stubbornness may be abhorrent to the Kylians, but to Jhoral it was a most attractive trait. His people equated persistence with strength, and if he was any judge, Lanai was not one to give up easily. He prayed to the moon gods she would find the mate she was seeking.
Beside him, Mistress Aleris sighed. “I thought she might be difficult. Lanai never knows when to give up.”
“Farsaeans find such strength admirable.”
“Admirable, perhaps,” the older woman agreed. “But unfortunately, this time it is unfeasible. Her receptor is not here.”
That fact didn’t seem to deter Lanai. She jerked away from the hands that tried to restrain her, moving to yet another receptor to try again. Jhoral’s heart pounded in empathy, and thought it ironic since he still wasn’t sure he believed in the emotion. The perfectly ordered ceremony dissolved into a wrestling match as the two gray robed women tried to force the smaller empath to leave. Jhoral watched as she fought them, stumbling from woman to woman, tears coursing down her face. His whole body tensed as if it were him fighting down there in the cold, white room.
“They must catch her.” The mentor spoke softly, her voice gritty with sadness. “She will kill herself if she continues this way.
Suddenly terrified she might do just that, Jhoral leaned over the railing. His hands clenched at the barrier so hard they hurt. “Come on, little one,” he whispered to himself. “You can do it. Don’t give up, Lanai.”
The empath went abruptly still. Complete silence filled the room as everyone froze with her. She whirled around, jerking her head up, and those ever-changing eyes met Jhoral’s. He felt the impact of her gaze like a punch in the stomach, almost reeling back from the power of it. His fingers tightened on the balustrade, his fingernails leaving marks in the soft wood. His mind felt like a mighty wind was ripping it open. The astonishment of sharing his head with another swept through him and he groaned in shock and surprise. He didn’t even notice Dyas leap to his feet. He wasn’t aware of the appalled look on Mistress Aleris’ face. All he could see...all he could focus on was the woman who held him in her sway.
Her eyes lit up so bright he thought he would be blinded. Her smile reached out to him. Pushing away from the two women that held her, she staggered toward him, her arms outstretched.
“Finally...” Her sobbing mind-voice penetrated his thoughts. “Finally, I’ve found you.”
***end of excerpt***